Debunking the Myths About Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

This past Wednesday, the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund Summit took place in Washington, D.C. The Summit is aimed at educating and empowering Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI’s) as well as educating majority communities about the diversity of AAPI’s.

The summit came on the heels of the recently released Pew Research Center report titled The Rise of Asian Americans, making the gathering bitter sweet. On the one hand, it is important to have the issues of AAPI’s discussed by the mainstream media. The Pew report highlighted the many accomplishments of Asian Americans (not including Pacific Islanders). However, the report failed to capture the full situation for AAPI’s and as a result is misleading. Unfortunately, the Pew Report perpetuates many of the myths about AAPI’s, especially the myth that says that all AAPI’s are financially stable and well-educated.

For the past few years, Robert Teranishi and his team at New York University have been doing an immense amount of research on AAPI’s. Teranishi is the lead researcher on the CARE Report, which is the most comprehensive overview of AAPI issues, especially educational data. The CARE report shows that the AAPI community is richly diverse and also debunks the myths about this community. And, although the CARE report notes that there is a significant number of AAPI’s that have high levels of academic achievement (as noted by the Pew report), they also point out that when data on AAPI’s is disaggregated, a very different picture appears. For example, the CARE report shows that a large percentage of South East Asians (40.3 percent) and Pacific Islanders (50.2 percent) between the ages of 25-34 have not attended college. In addition, of those who did attend college, large numbers have left college without earning a degree. Moreover, when examining the educational success of AAPI’s overall, the CARE report notes that nearly 50 percent of AAPI students attend community colleges. Unfortunately, the researchers at Pew do not appear to have consulted the CARE report or Teranishi’s other research. I wish they did. A more well-rounded portrayal of AAPI’s is needed to meet the needs of all AAPI students.

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